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College Salaries: The Income Gap

Medieval illustration of a university

A Medieval University

In our free-wheeling capitalistic country with its ambivalent attitude toward intellectual activity and it’s slogan that “The business of America is business,” college administrators have come to think of colleges as business enterprises.  In this debased view,  administrators are the managers, professors  are the subordinate workers, and graduates are the product.  Thus, efficiency is the use of fewer professors working at lower pay to turn out more graduates.

The trustees of these enterprises often have the same attitudes and values as the trustees  of  large business organizations.  They endorse the salaries and bonuses paid to their college presidents as necessary to retain such wonderful talent,  though the talent isn’t obvious.  But if a college or university is really just another money making corporation,  then we shouldn’t be surprised by the avarice of the people at the top.

In the past ten years the salary of private-college professors has increased 14 percent while the pay for their presidents has shot up 75 percent.  The distinguished Chronicle of Higher Education recently noted that there’s a widening income gap between professors and the presidents of the colleges where they teach. The most recent figures are from 2009. Presumably things have gotten even more out of whack, but here are a few outstanding examples from two years ago.

Charles H. Polk, president of Mountain State University, took home a glorious $1,843,746. Haven’t heard of Mountain State? Mr. Polk’s salary used up 3.5 percent of the college’s entire budget. His college’s intellectual standing is such that it may soon lose its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The President of Rensselaer  Polytechnic Institute, Shirley Ann Jackson, was paid more than eleven times as much as her professors, a nifty $1,771,877.   And according to the Times Union of Albany, her college is in the hole for $806 million and has fallen to 50th in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of colleges.

Then there’s Kevin J. Manning, president of Stevenson University, with a handsome $1,493,655 compensation package. That’s over sixteen times what his professors were making.

Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty,  recently pointed out  that “between 1997 and 2007, the number of administrative and support personnel per hundred students increased dramatically at most schools—103 percent at Williams College; 111 percent at Johns Hopkins; 325 percent at Wake Forest University; and 351 percent at Yeshiva University, to cite some noteworthy examples.”

So forget about collegiality and the life of the intellect.  These college leaders have entered the big corporation candy store and they’re greedy, greedy, greedy.  We’ve wandered a long way from the day when a graduate of Williams College said of it’s president, Mark Hopkins, “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins at one end of a log and a student at the other.”

A University Classroom in the 14th Century

The scene above is a Medieval depiction of a classroom in the 14th century.  Scan the young scholars sitting on the benches and you’ll see that student behaviour hasn’t changed much in six  or seven hundred years. That fellow at the far end of the second row is about to nod off and the poor guy in blue at this end of the third row has fallen asleep or has a wretched hangover. Further along the same bench you’ll find a couple of students chatting amiably and at the far end of the back row another couple are conferring quite oblivious to the Magister at the lectern.  Maybe the lecture is really dull. That’s possible. On the other hand, some of those students are paying rapt attention.  Our bet is that the guy in blue stayed up much to late last night,  drinking and singing Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus.

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